Oldowan hominin behavior and ecology at Kanjera South,Kenya.
The Early Stone Age archaeological record does not become persistent and widespread until approximately 2.0-1.7 million years ago, when Oldowan sites spread across Africa and ultimately into Eurasia. However, good records of hominin behavior from this important time interval are uncommon. Here we describe recent findings from the two million year old Oldowan site of Kanjera South, on the Homa Peninsula of southwestern Kenya. Kanjera South is the oldest Oldowan site with large assemblages of stone artifacts and well-preserved archaeological fauna. Our research indicates that hominin activities were situated in an open habitat within a grassland dominated ecosystem, the first documentation of an archaeological site in such an open setting. Hominins selectively collected and transported stone materials (30% of the lithic assemblage) over longer distances (at least 10 km) than is typical for the Oldowan, reflecting their preference for hard, easily-flaked lithologies unavailable on the northern half of the Homa Peninsula. They deployed different technological strategies to more intensively utilize these hard, non-local raw materials. Artifacts were used for a variety of tasks, including butchering small antelopes probably obtained by hunting, working wood, working soft plant material, and processing underground storage organs. These data suggest that the Kanjera hominins utilized a technological system that allowed them to extract nutrient dense animal and plant foods from their environment. This shift towards the acquisition of nutritious, hard-to-acquire foods in packets large enough to be shared may have facilitated brain and body size expansion in the genus Homo.